Muscle recovery is an often-overlooked factor when it comes to training. It can be the factor that holds you back from a breakthrough or keeping you from those PR goals. The stress applied during a one-hour workout is only part of the equation in seeing gains in strength and endurance. Your body is actually getting better, progressing the other 23 hours of the day. These “off” hours are the crucial time to focus on, making sure you are getting the most from your training time, and not just wasting hours on aimless exercises.
This is the single, most ESSENTIAL recovery strategy. Of course we’ve heard this all our lives – the importance of sleep. The recovery process actually peaks during our sleeping hours.
Closely tied with nutrition, this could be the most important factor when it comes to recovering from a workout. This is especially important when increasing the volume or intensity of training. When applying a new or increased stressor, you want to make certain that your body can recover adequately.
One thing that could result from sleep deprivation is overtraining. When you do not get enough sleep to fully recover, you not only just feel out of energy and sluggish but it could also increase your chances of over training. Overtraining looks different for different individuals depending on their adaption to training.
It is more important to skip the extra workout and get some Zzzs rather than train more and rest less. Incorporating a strategy or schedule is a great way to help you stay on track with sleep.
Hydration & Nutrition
Nutrition is also an important factor to fuel your recovery. It is physiologically impossible to gain strength if you are not adequately fueled.
You must consume as many calories as you exert or else you’ll be in a calorie deficit, causing the loss of either muscle or fat. This may be your goal (fat loss), but this should not consist of being deprived of vital nutrients to get the best out of your workouts.
If fat loss is your top goal or a close second, your nutritional plan should be carefully crafted and adjusted so that way you’re not so far in a calorie deficit that you begin to see detrimental results.
Nutrition is not only important for recovery but also to fuel your actual workout. Eating the right food, in the right amounts, could make a substantial difference in power output whether you are on the bike or in the weight room. Once your body is out of fuel, you begin to convert protein to glycogen to use as fuel via gluconeogenesis. Not only is this counter-productive as your body is basically breaking down its own muscle sources, it’s also not nearly as efficient of fuel.
Hydration is another key factor in muscle recovery. It is an often overlooked factor and easy to forget. For me personally, if I’m not carrying around a water bottle or something with water in it, I will easily forget to stay hydrated. Lack of adequate water consumption can cause low energy or reduced power output.
Normally this could be seen only as a pre-workout warm-up, but myofascial release is a great way to allow your muscles to relax a bit more and ease those tense areas.
This strategy could be broken down into an article of its own, but for now I will hit the highlights.
Myofascial release could make a substantial difference when using these tools correctly to help alleviate pain from a hard workout and get you back into training shape.
When used properly and purposefully, soft tissue work can help to release the tension that has accumulated in the muscles, allowing them the opportunity to fully recover from a workout.
One reason I do not strongly suggest this as a pre-workout warm-up, with a couple of exceptions, is because done properly, it puts the body in a parasympathetic state, calming the body down. Myofascial release is valuable in contributing to your overall recovery, as well as the actual tissue release.
Stretching is different technique than myofascial release, although both have their benefits. One of the similarities is that stretching will also help shift your body into a more parasympathetic state, allowing you to relax. The practice of yoga for example, its mood and tone along with low intensity of movement is very relaxing and calming. It helps your body return to a state that is optimal for muscle recovery.
Over the past 5 years compression garments have taken over the market. Claiming to provide increased performance and recovery, most of these can cost top dollar.
Compression garments can be more or less effective, depending on your sport and what you level of recover you need. If you are recovering from a long bike ride, obviously calf compression would not be as beneficial as leg compression. There has been a ton of research in support of compression and benefits to muscle recovery, although most research is not consistent with claims of better performance.
If you’ve ever worked with a coach or trainer, I’m sure you’ve heard over and over again how important sleep and hydration is for recovery from your preferred exercise program. And they most certainly are. But there are also other factors often overlooked to promote active muscle recovery that are not to be forgotten. The long hours and many miles of training could actually keep you from being your best unless followed up with a purposeful regime of recovery.